The Education Ministry should consider whether former Foreign Ministry director-general and ambassador to South Africa Alon Liel should remain chairman of the board of a historic Tel Aviv school, said Knesset Education, Culture and Sport Committee chairman Ya’acov Margi on Tuesday, in light of Liel’s calls to internationally isolate Israel.
MK Miki Zohar (Likud) warned, “We want to protect our children and allow them to get a good education, not to educate them through Alon Liel’s example to slander Israel.”
Liel is chairman of the board of Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, the first Hebrew high school in Israel, founded in 1905.
Zohar petitioned the Education Committee to discuss a Yediot Aharonot report from last month on a secret recording of a December 2015 meeting between Liel and activists from Breaking the Silence, which collects testimony from former IDF soldiers claiming Israel committed war crimes. Breaking the Silence has been criticized in Israel for publishing unsubstantiated accusations, because most soldiers are quoted anonymously in its reports, and for taking their stories abroad, rather than to the IDF.
In the recording, Liel encouraged the activists to continue their efforts to increase international pressure on Israel to get it to “end the occupation.” He said it is easier to fight Israel via the UN and the EU, and said Breaking the Silence could lead to Israel being kicked out of the UN, like South Africa was from 1974 until it became a democracy in 1994.
According to Liel, international pressure is necessary because “The political system is lost,” and Breaking the Silence is supported by “the most moral, wisest people who...
were not brainwashed by right-wing messianic propaganda.”
The former diplomat lobbied Brazil against accepting former settlement leader Dani Dayan as Israel’s ambassador in recent months, has worked toward getting parliaments in Europe to recognize a Palestinian state and has openly supported and advocated for cultural boycotts of Israel.
At the Education Committee, Zohar said, “Freedom of speech is not freedom of incitement.”
“It is unthinkable that a person who slanders our country wherever he can is responsible for our high school students,” Zohar added.
“What values will Liel teach those students? Love for our homeland?” Liel and other members of the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, board did not attend the meeting, though they were invited.
Meretz MKs defended Liel, interrupting the meeting when Zohar tried to play a video of Liel and claiming that it is inappropriate to play something without knowing who edited it.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal- On said, “Alon Liel did not meet with Breaking the Silence in his capacity as the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium chairman.”
She continued, “Liel’s opinions are known throughout the world, and he is allowed to criticize the government’s policies in Israel and abroad.”
Gal-On accused Zohar of persecuting Liel because of his political opinions, and MK Oded Forer (Yisrael Beytenu) responded that Liel tried to sabotage Dayan because of where he lives and his political opinions.
“Liel only follows the rules when he’s winning. When a person says what Liel says, he cannot stand at the head of an educational institution.
If he wants to say his opinions, he will have to pay the price,” Forer said.
MK Michal Rozin (Meretz) responded that Liel believes that it is the interest of Zionism and the State of Israel to “end the occupation” and argued that Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely’s rightwing positions harm Israel more than Liel does.
“No one should be fired because of his political opinions. Let’s stop this very slippery slope,” she said.
Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv Arnon Giladi said he asked the Education Ministry to fire Liel, but that he was told the ministry does not take care of such matters.
As for the argument between the MKs, Giladi said: “Every citizen has the right to express his opinions, but someone who is in a public system and heads an educational institution in Israel should be extra-careful.”
Margi (Shas) ended the committee meeting by saying he takes issue with accusations from Meretz that the meeting was a witch hunt, and that he has the right to discuss any topic the committee wants.
As for Liel’s absence, Margi said “A person who excludes himself from Knesset committees shows his inability to participate in a serious debate.”
Margi called on the Education Ministry to reexamine Liel’s statements and to see if they are appropriate for the chairman of an educational institution.
Liel declined to comment, referring to his response to a Channel 1 report from last month about a letter Giladi sent to Education Minister Naftali Bennett to fire Liel. At the time, the former diplomat said the claim that he called to boycott the state is a lie, and he called the letter incitement.
Also on Tuesday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot addressed recent controversies involving Breaking the Silence.
Eisenkot said, “The IDF acts in line with high ethical standards. There are unusual cases. If we did not act in accordance with our values, this would cause the military to break apart from the inside.” IDF soldiers have been instructed that it is their duty not to carry out illegal orders, he said.
“We expect soldiers... to know in real time that this is the demand of them. And not, years after their release, to ‘break the silence,’” he said.
“Those who are released and speak after a few years – I can’t argue over the specific cases. I received complaints after Operation Protective Edge, and ordered the Military Prosecution to check into the complaints of Breaking the Silence,” Eisenkot added.
Yaakov Lappin and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.